Literacy Tips

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 26th

posted by Courtney Richardson

Don’t Be Fooled: Accurate Word Recognition DOESN’T Equal Comprehension              

Many think that comprehension is the natural by-product of accurate word recognition. Just because students can read the words doesn’t imply that they are understanding what they read. Many students in classrooms across the USA are given comprehension assignments, mainly through responding to questions. But these activities are void of instruction on how to comprehend using the critical strategies. Comprehension can be taught through interactive read-alouds as well as during guided reading instruction.  

Character analysis is a powerful means for teaching students to make inferences.  During training, we examine the pages in Jan’s book for techniques to support the teaching of character analysis. I model for the teachers, we do it together, then teachers apply these techniques to text they are using with students. 

Rereading is a powerful contributor to comprehension. Reading material once for the gist is parallel to writing a first draft. Rereading is the process that contributes to developing deeper understanding. Expect students to reread a guided reading text as a meaningful follow-up task. You are helping them strengthen their comprehension. 

 By Sophie Kowzun, page turner consulting,

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 19th

posted Mar 19, 2017, 4:34 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Mar 21, 2017, 6:18 PM ]

Getting the Power out of Guided Writing               

Guided writing is an important part of successful guided reading lessons. Having students write about a story they have read, increases comprehension and gives teachers the opportunity to teach appropriate writing skills. Before guided writing, collect a short writing sample from each student in the group. Use the Target Skills for Transitional Writers on pages 208-209 of Next Step Forward in Guided Reading, to analyze each student’s writing and select a focus for instruction. Select one target skill for each student and write it on a sticky note. Place the sticky note in the guided writing journals so you and the students have a specific writing goal for the lesson. It is quite possible that each of the students in your group will have a different writing skill focus. Often teachers try to “fix” everything during guided writing. By focusing on one targeted skill, teachers can narrow their focus and students can work towards autonomy in one area. Once that targeted skill focus is solidified, students are ready to move to the next targeted writing skill. You will be amazed how your laser tight writing focus will transfer to their independent writing.  

By Karen Cangemi, Reading Specialist, Pinellas County School District, FL,

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 12th

posted Mar 12, 2017, 10:28 AM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Mar 12, 2017, 10:29 AM ]

Tackling the Comprehension Demands of the New Standards 

In chapter 7 of Next Step Forward in Guided Reading, Jan provides a detailed, teacher-friendly explanation of the most effective comprehension strategies. With the increase in rigor associated with the new state standards, students are expected to apply comprehension strategies at earlier reading levels than what we were ever accustomed to. Younger children - and especially struggling readers - need instruction with comprehension strategies early on, so they can continue to build and strengthen their foundational reading skills. Readers at all levels need a toolbox of comprehension strategies to help them continue to be successful readers ~ Voila! ~ we have Jan’s comprehension scaffolding cards. They can be found in the appendix of The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading, on this site’s Resources page, or you can purchase the Comprehension Card Box from Pioneer Valley Books ( 

In over 205 research studies, there is strong evidence that the teaching of the comprehension strategies impacts reading achievement (Shannon, 2010, So turn on your printer, grab your cardstock, and get ready to make your comprehension scaffolding cards – YOUR teacher toolbox for comprehension success!

By Julie Allsworth, “Next Steps” Guided Reading Consultant,;

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 5th

posted Mar 6, 2017, 11:18 AM by Courtney Richardson

Creating Flexible Thinkers Using Short Text

To support flexible thinking with fluent readers, use the same short text to teach different comprehension strategies. First, choose two comprehension strategies from Chapter 7 in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. Then select a short text with few decoding challenges. The goal is to teach strategic thinking - not decoding. If you have to drop a level to make the reading easier, do so. You will use the same text over two days. On Day 1, students independently read the text for surface understanding. Next, use the comprehension cards and introduce the first of your chosen strategies. Comprehension cards can be found on the resource page of this website or on the online resources of Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (NSFGR). For example, you might choose Module 11 -VIP Nonfiction (pg. 268 NSFGR) on Day 1. After you model the strategy, have students practice it on the text. Then tell the students they will be reading the same passage tomorrow but changing their thinking strategy. On Day 2 introduce a second comprehension strategy. Perhaps you use Module 12- Turning Headings Into Questions (pg. 269), or Module 25 – Key Word Summary (pg. 282). At the end of Day 2, review both comprehension strategies. Tell students why they are practicing different strategies on the same text – you are showing them how they can be flexible thinkers! Explain how thinking differently about the same text will deepen their comprehension. Sources for short texts include:  



by Ellen Lewis, Reading Teacher and Next Steps Guided Reading Consultant

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of February 26th

posted Feb 26, 2017, 12:54 PM by Courtney Richardson

Attend to the Details of Comprehension Instruction

Teachers of transitional and fluent readers often struggle with teaching comprehension during the guided reading lesson. The first challenge is to identify a focus. Understanding that self-monitoring is the very first comprehension strategy to teach, I follow it with visualizing and self-questioning. These three strategies seem to be easiest for teachers to implement and most valuable for readers to use. When I conduct workshops, I first model specific comprehension strategies and provide guided practice before I have teachers apply one of the comprehension strategies to the text they plan to use with a group of readers. 

Knowing how to chunk the text is another challenge. Some teachers have students read huge sections of text without asking students to stop to reflect on their thinking. I show teachers how to chunk text into smaller segments and then have students write short responses that connect to the comprehension focus. Getting readers to stop, think, and jot helps them reflect on their reading. 

Making inferences through analysis of characters has such power. Jan's professional text provides suggestions and graphic organizers to help teachers with this instruction. I model it, we do it together, and then teachers have an opportunity to apply it during the planning session.

Improve your comprehension instruction by attending to these details!

Sophie Kowzun

Page Turner Consulting

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of February 19th

posted Feb 20, 2017, 4:57 PM by Courtney Richardson

Can whole-group instruction take the place of guided reading?

I totally endorse and encourage whole-class reading instruction, but I don’t think it can take the place of guided reading. There is a seductive efficiency to whole-class instruction that says we can save time by giving every child the same lesson. The reality, however, is that the few children who respond appropriately may be "getting it," but the others are not. Even those who respond correctly during the read aloud may have problems transferring that strategy to a text they read independently. Guided reading is the bridge between whole-class instruction and independent processing. I recommend that teachers model a comprehension strategy with a read aloud or short text during whole-class instruction, and then thread that strategy into guided reading while the children are doing most of the work -- not the teacher. Whole-class instruction can never achieve the differentiation and scaffolding that is present during a teacher-led guided reading lesson.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of February 12th

posted Feb 12, 2017, 4:10 PM by Courtney Richardson

Learning from Reading Recovery

As many of you know, I was trained as a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader. Although there are differences between guided reading and Reading Recovery, the two approaches share the same goal: to provide responsive teaching that builds on a child’s strengths and teaches him or her how to be a better reader. An important lesson from Reading Recovery that we can apply to guided reading is to create echoes across the lesson. This is especially true in word study. Whatever skills you teach during the word study portion of the lesson should be reinforced in the reading and writing portions of the lesson. For example, if you targeted hearing short vowels during word study, you need to prompt children to say words slowly during guided writing and record the short vowel sound correctly. If you showed children how to break apart words with blends during Making Words, the children should be prompted to apply that same skill to problem-solve words with blends during reading and writing. Creating echoes across the guided reading lesson will help children internalize the skills and strategies you teach.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of February 5th

posted Feb 4, 2017, 9:16 AM by Courtney Richardson

You decide!

Some have criticized the “Next Step” guided reading plans as being rigid and inflexible, but that's just not true. I provide a framework to support teachers in planning their lessons, but I encourage teachers to make decisions that come from on-going assessments and anecdotal notes. Here are the decisions you must make as you plan your lessons:

- Focus: What strategic actions are you going to target? What does this group need to learn next?

- Sight Word Review: Which sight words have you taught this group that need further review?

- Introduction: How much support will you provide in your book introduction? Your support will vary based on genre, text complexity, strategy focus, text structure and the language strengths of the students. You also need to decide which words you will introduce because your students would not be able to problem-solve them independently.

- Prompt during reading: As students read, you must make on-the-spot decisions about the teaching moves, prompts, and scaffolds that help students improve their processing.

- Discussion: The discussion prompt often relates to the comprehension focus for the text. Still, you need to decide how to facilitate a discussion of the book that lifts the students’ understanding and increases their capacity to discuss the next book.

- Teaching Points: You select the specific strategy or skill to model based on individual conferences with your students.

- New Sight Word: Select a new word students need to learn.

- Word Study: Student errors and spelling assessments will highlight the skills this group needs to learn next. Decide your skill focus and then choose the word study activity that best teaches that skill. It might be picture sorting, making words, sound boxes, analogy charts, or make a big word.

- Guided Writing: On Day 2 (or Day 3), after students have read and discussed the book, select a writing prompt that extends comprehension and provides an opportunity for you to teach writing skills

Use the lesson plan as a scaffold to help you make decisions that move your students forward in their literacy journey. You decide!

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of January 29th

posted Jan 29, 2017, 1:45 PM by Courtney Richardson

Guided Reading at Intermediate Levels

A reading coach asked me to explain why intermediate teachers should do guided reading.  Her fifth-grade teachers only want to do literature circles. I believe intermediate and middle school classes should have both guided reading and literature circles. Many teachers already see the value of literature circles, so let me share three reasons why guided reading is important.

1. Genre - Literature circles primarily use novels/fiction. Research shows that children in grades 4-8 need more strategies for comprehending informational text. I recommend teachers use short nonfiction passages and poetry during guided reading with the emphasis on teaching them how to navigate complex texts. While the teacher is working with a guided reading group, the rest of the class can read novels to prepare for literature circles.

2. Scaffolding - The format of guided reading allows the teacher to differentiate support based on student needs. Even when six kids are in the same literature circle or guided reading group, they will need different levels of support. The beauty of guided reading is that the teacher can provide on-the-spot scaffolding to target the specific needs of individual students. The teacher also utilizes the power of the gradual release model. As the lesson progresses over two or three days, the teacher sees student growth, reduces his/her support, and moves on to a more challenging strategy focus or text.

3. Results - Guided reading works. When teachers try it, they see how powerful it is. I've witnessed this again and again. Deb Rosenow, a former 5th grade teacher who is now a district literacy coach in Chattanooga, TN, was reluctant to use guided reading with her advanced readers. She believed literature circles were all they needed. When she administered end-of-year benchmark testing, however, she was surprised to discover that the only students who did not show growth were her advanced readers. The following year, all her students received guided reading and literature circles, and everyone made progress.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of January 22nd

posted Jan 22, 2017, 5:22 PM by Courtney Richardson

Processing Shifts

During every guided reading lesson, you should witness shifts in your students’ processing. They might learn a new way to take a word apart or take on self-monitoring for visual information. How do these shifts occur?  Shifts happen because of careful teacher observation, explicit demonstration, appropriate prompting, and a gradual release of teacher scaffolding. If a student does something today with your help, he or she should be able to do it tomorrow without your help. “Scaffolding (a critical component of guided reading) involves the provision of temporary supports that allow students to successfully accomplish a task that is too challenging for them to accomplish on their own” (Lipson & Wixson, 2010, Successful Approaches to RTI. p 35). 

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